New Sacred Sounds Program Notes
By ARTHUR F. EDWARDS
Annotator, Los Angeles Master Chorale
Ariel Ramirez (b. 1921)
Born in Santa Fe, Argentina, Ariel Ramirez has specialized in the folklore of his native country. His studies throughout Argentina, influenced by further research in Madrid and Vienna uniquely prepared him for undertaking the composition of a sung mass based strictly on musical forms found in Argentine folklore. In keeping with the nature of the music, the vernacular, i.e., Spanish, is used. It is scored for soloists (originally Los Fronterizos, a popular quartet), chorus, harpsichord, guitar, and percussion.
The Kyrie is based on two rhythms -vida/a and bagua/a, expressing the profound feeling of this litany. A complete and fitting contrast is provided by the use of one of the most popular dance forms, the Carnavalito in the Gloria. It is an infectious expression of joy. The middle section is sung to the Yaravi rhythm .
The most complex of rhythms used in the Misa Criolla is the chacarera trunca used for the Credo. Built on the simultaneous use of 6/8 and 3/4, it provides an obsessive and almost exasperating foundation for the majestic melody which alternates 6/8 with 4/4. An analysis of the possible rhythmic permutations · boggles the mind, but the effect is delightful. A more subdued beat (also 6/8 against 3/4), the Bolivian Carnival of Cochabamba underscores the solemn praise of the Sanctus. The Agnus Dei is in pampa style - intimate, tender, and at the same time solemn.
Jazz Suite on the Mass Texts
Lalo Schifrin (b. 1932)
Like Ramirez, Schifrin was born in· Argentina. Like the Misa Criolla, the Jazz Suite on the Mass Texts is a setting of the Ordinary of the Mass. There the resemblance ends. The Misa Criolla is a folkloric setting of the texts designed to be used in the liturgy. The
Jazz Suite, as its name implies, is a highly sophisticated work in which the liturgical texts become a point of departure for instrumental improvisation. It is scored for a small chorus (without basses), six brass, two harps, four percussion players (on seventeen instruments), and a jazz quintet.
In the Kyrie the chorus intones the text punctuated by instrumental commentary. An extended improvisation follows and continues against the notated brass and voices. The chorus finishes a cappella. The lnterludium commences with solo timpani and gradually expands to include all the brass with the quintet. The Gloria begins and ends with chorus and the harps; in the middle section the quintet improvises against the notated chorus parts.
The full score of the Credo is remarkable for the fact that it contains not one note of music - only the text and directions for all performers. Everyone improvises! Each singer is to sing the lines "disregarding togetherness... on his or her lowest note ppp and continue singing until ... out of breath- starts again half a tone higher and a little more intensity. This procedure follows until the end." The conductor is i11structed to "divide the whole text in three sections (more or less one minute each)." The timpani and bass area begin with the singers. The alto sax starts playing after twenty seconds "atonal free jazz." The other percussion players enter on cue and build to the repeated Amen marked fffff.
Except for flutter tonguing on the piccolo, the Sanctus is relatively conservative with two short ad lib sections. The Prayer that follows is the ultimate in simplicity: a solo bass flute. The first four phrases are notated, as are the final three. The rest is improvised.
The Offertory in 6/8 is improvised by the quintet: three minutes of crescendo, one minute thirty-five seconds of dimuendo. The closing Agnus Dei is largely notated, with the quintet beginning their final improvisation in the last third.
The Gates of Justice
Dave Brubeck (b. 1920)
The Gates of justice was written in response to a commission from the College-Conservatory of Music of the University of Cincinnati and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, through the auspices of the Corbett Foundation. It is scored for baritone and tenor soloists, chorus, eleven brass, bass, organ, and the Trio, which is, of course, improvisational.
The following is excerpted from Mr. Brubeck's notes:
"The essential message of The Gates of justice is the brotherhood of man. Concentrating on the historic and spiritual parallels of the Jew and the American
Negro, I hoped through the juxtaposition and amalgamation of a variety of musical styles to construct a bridge upon which the universal theme of brotherhood could be communicated. The soloists are composite characters. The cantorial tenor, whose melodies are rooted in the Hebraic modes, represents the prophetic voice of Hebrew tradition. The Negro baritone, whose melodies stem from the blues and spirituals, is the symbol of contemporary man, and a reminder to men of all faiths that divine mandates are still waiting to be fulfilled.
"The structure of the piece somewhat resembles a bridge, the interlacing of the improvisations, solos and choral responses are like the interweaving cables that span from anchoring piers. The piers are in the form of three related choral pieces (Parts II, VII, XII) based primarily upon texts from the Union Prayer Book of Reform Judaism and the Psalms. Oh, Come Let Us Sing a New Song unto the Lord (II) , written in rather traditional style with hints of the present in its harmonies and rhythms, is a call to worship. A complex of musical styles (jazz, rock, spirituals, traditional), just as a congregation is a mixture of individuals, Shout unto the Lord (VII) is a celebration. It expresses the ecstasy and release of communal joy. However, at its core is the sobering message from Martin Luther King, Jr., our contemporary prophet: 'If we don't live together as brothers, we will die together as fools.' In Part XII, Oh, Come Let Us Sing a New Song, the enumeration of the attributes of God in whose image we are created, is a reminder of man's potential.
"The shofar, which is heard at the very opening of the cantata (is traditionally a call to battle or to conscience. In this piece it is used as both – the battle for the survival of mankind, and the recognition of what humanity should be...
"Using the chorus as the voice of the people who have been pawns of history, I've tried dramatically to depict the awesome force of the unheard millions battering at the man-made barriers which have separated men from each other, and consequently from knowing the nature of God. The heart of the cantata is in the plea, demand and exhortation... Open the gates of justice!...
"When I had completed writing The Gates of Justice, I found in Micah (chap. 6, v. 8), a summation of my thinking: 'It hath been told thee, 0 man, what is good and what the Lord doth require of thee: Only to do justice, and to love mercy and walk humbly with thy God.'